Political, Resumed

In 1890 there were two important supreme-court decisions rendered which were of popular interest. The legislature remained in session for a time beyond the sixty-day limit prescribed by the constitution, and the question was raised as to the validity of the laws passed after that limit was passed. The supreme court of the state decided that they were valid, and this decision was finally affirmed by the supreme court of the United States.

The other decision concerned the great Mormon question and the test oath so stringently adopted by the early settlers of the territory. The territorial statute provided that no person should be entitled to vote who was a “member of any order, organization or association which teaches, advises, counsels or encourages its members, devotees or any other person to commit the crime of bigamy or polygamy, or any other crime defined by law, as a duty arising or resulting from membership in such order, organization or association, or which practices bigamy, polygamy or plural or celestial marriages as a doctrinal rite of such organizations.”

To enforce this provision it was further en-acted that every person applying for registration should take a stringent oath, known as the “test oath,” to the effect that he “does not and will not practice bigamy or polygamy, and is not and will not be connected in any way with the Mormon organization or aid it, or teach its doctrines.” It was claimed by the Mormons that these statutes violated the first amendment to the constitution of the United States, which forbids the passage ‘ of any law “respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The decision of this court, rendered February 3, 1890, denied this contention and fully established the constitutionality of such legislation. The document contains the following statements of the law:

Bigamy and polygamy are crimes by the laws of all civilized and Christian countries. They are crimes by the laws of the United States, and they are crimes by the laws of Idaho. The term “religion” has reference to one’s views of his relations to his Creator and to the obligations they impose and reverence for His being and character, and of obedience to His will. It is often confounded with the cultus or form of worship of a particular sect, but is distinguished from the latter. The first amendment to the constitution, in declaring that “congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise’ thereof,” was intended to allow every one under the jurisdiction of the United States to entertain such notions respecting his relations to his Maker and the duties they impose as may be approved by his judgment and conscience, and to exhibit his sentiments in such form of worship as he may think proper not injurious to the equal rights of others, and to prohibit legislation for the support of any religious tenets or the modes of worship of any religious sect. The oppressive measures adopted, and the cruelties and punishments inflicted by the governments of Europe for many ages, to compel parties to conform in their religious beliefs and modes of worship to the views of the most numerous sect, and the folly of attempting in that way to control the mental operation of persons and enforce an outward conformity to a prescribed standard, led to the adoption of the amendment in question. It was never in-tended or supposed that the amendment could be invoked as a protection against legislation for the punishment of acts inimical to the peace, good order and morals of society. However free the exercise of religion may be, it must be subordinate to the criminal laws of the country passed with reference to actions regarded by general consent as properly the subjects of punitive legislation. Probably never before in the history of this country has it been seriously contended that the whole punitive power of the government, for acts recognized by the general consent of the Christian world in modern times as proper matters for prohibitory legislation, must be suspended in order that the tenets of a religious sect encouraging crime may be carried out without hindrance.

It was further decided -that the legislation in question was entirely within the powers granted by congress to the territorial legislature.

Admission to the Union

The passage of the Idaho admission bill through congress was virtually assured by the above decision. Until it was made certain that the new state, if admitted, could lawfully control and exclude from power its polygamous population, no one cared to hasten its admission; and the bill slumbered in the house committee at Washington. After this decision the bill was reported to the house, and passed, April 3. It received the approval of the senate July i, and was signed by the president on July 3, and at that moment Idaho became a state. Its constitution had been framed in July 1889, and adopted by the people in November of that year.

The boundaries of the new state were defined as follows: Beginning at the inter-section of the thirty-ninth meridian with the boundary line between the United States and the British possessions, then following said meridian south until it reaches the summit of the Bitter Root mountains, then southeast along the crest of the Bitter Root range and the continental divide until it inter-sects the meridian of thirty-four degrees of longitude, thence southward on this meridian to the forty-second parallel of latitude, thence west on this parallel of latitude to its intersection with the meridian drawn through the mouth of the Owyhee river, thence north on this meridian to the mouth of the Owyhee river, thence down the mid-channel of the Snake river to the mouth of the Clearwater river, and north on the meridian which passes through the mouth of the Clearwater to the boundary line between the United States and the British possessions, and east on said boundary line to the place of beginning.

On the admission of Idaho into the Union, it was assigned one representative in congress, be-sides the two senators. It was provided that in the first election held for state officers the territorial laws for registration, including the test-oath law, should apply. The sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections of the public lands in each township, or sections in lieu thereof, were granted to the state for the support of common schools, the proceeds from the sale of such lands to be preserved as a permanent school fund. This fund was entitled also to receive five per cent, of the net proceeds accruing to the United States from the sale of public lands in the state. Fifty sections of the public lands were granted in aid of the erection of public buildings at the capital, and ninety thousand acres were granted for the establishment and maintenance of an agricultural college. In lieu of the general grant of lands for internal improvements usually made to new states, the following special grants were made: For the establishment and maintenance of a scientific school, 100,000 acres; for state normal schools, 90,000 acres; for the maintenance of the insane asylum at Blackfoot, 50,000 acres; for the maintenance of the state university at Moscow, 50,000 acres; for the penitentiary at Boise, 50,000 acres; and for other state charitable, educational, penal and reformatory institutions, 150,000 acres. None of the lands granted was to be sold for less than ten dollars an acre.

The First State Officers

Pursuant to the provisions of the admission act and of the new constitution. Territorial Governor Shoup issued a proclamation. July 18, 1890, directing a special election to be held on October 1 to choose a full corps of state and county officers and a representative to the fifty-first and fifty-second congresses. Nominating conventions were at once called by the Republican and Democratic state committees.

The Republican state convention met at Boise August 20 and nominated the following ticket: For governor, George L. Shoup; for lieutenant governor, Norman B. Willey; secretary of state. A. J. Pinkham; auditor, George Robethan; treasurer, Frank R. Coffin; attorney general, George H. Roberts; superintendent of public instruction. J. E. Harroun; justices of the supreme court, Joseph W. Huston, John T. Morgan and Isaac N. Sullivan; and member of congress for both terms, Willis Sweet. In their platform, besides the customary declarations, the Republicans demanded a repeal of the national law which placed the public domain of the state of Idaho within the arid region and reserved the same from settlement, which law “retarded the growth of the state and worked a great injustice to the people.”

The Democratic state convention also met at Boise, August 26, and nominated Benjamin Wilson for governor, Samuel F. Taylor for lieutenant governor, E. A. Sherwin for secretary of state, James H. Wickersham for auditor, T. A. Regan for treasurer, Richard Z. Johnson for attorney general, Milton A. Kelly for superintendent of public instruction, I. N. Maxwell, F. H. Ensign and Hugh W. Weir for justices of the supreme court, and Alexander E. Mayhew for member of congress. In their platform they declared for the free and unlimited coinage of silver, for an eight-hour system of labor, for laws restricting Chinese immigration and prohibiting their employment, and even favored the deportation of the Chinese that may be found already in the state; and they also favored the principle of electing United States senators by a popular vote.

During the ensuing canvass the name of Silas W. Moody was substituted on the Republican ticket for that of George Robethan. The election resulted in a victory for the Republican ticket, as follows: For George L. Shoup, Republican candidate for governor, 10,262; for Benjamin Wilson, the Democratic candidate for that office, 7,948; for Willis Sweet, Republican candidate for member of congress, 10,150; for Alex. E. Mayhew, for the same office, 8,026; and the other candidates received majorities varying from 1,500 to 2,200.

The state legislature was composed of fourteen Republicans and four Democrats in the senate, and thirty Republicans and six Democrats in the house. On November 3, soon after assuming office, Governor Shoup issued his proclamation convening the new legislature for its first session at Boise on December 8. This body accordingly met on that date, and completed its session on March 14 following. Almost immediately after assembling, the legislature proceeded to the election of United States senators. On December 18 it chose Governor Shoup for the term ending March 4, 1897, and William J. McConnell for the term ending March 4, 1893. At the same time this legislature elected ex-Delegate Frederick T. Dubois to succeed Governor Shoup at the end of his term. The ballot for Dubois was taken in joint session, without having first, on the day previous, taken a ballot separately in each house, according to the statute. His Re-publican opponents took advantage of this, and, combining with the Democrats, protested against the election as illegal. They passed through both, houses a resolution under which, on February 10, each house separately voted for a senator in place of Dubois. This resolution declared that great doubt of the validity of the former election existed, because it took place in advance of the time fixed by law, and without a separate ballot in each house. On February 11 both houses in joint session, finding that no choice had been made on the preceding day on the separate ballot in each house, proceeded by joint ballot to elect William H. Clagett to the United States senate, by a vote of twenty-eight, to four for all other candidates. Seventeen Republican members were present and refused to vote, and four were absent; but the Republican minority and the Democrats (who voted for Clagett) formed a majority of both houses. Subsequently acting Governor Willey signed the certificate of Clagett’s election; but Secretary of State Pinkham refused to countersign it or affix the state seal. Dubois had previously obtained a certificate of election signed by the governor and the secretary of state and duly sealed. It then became the duty of the United States senate to pass upon the validity of both these certificates.

At this session of the legislature the Australian ballot system was adopted, applying to all elections in the state excepting school-district elections. Under its provisions candidates may be nominated by the convention or primary meeting of a political party, or by certificates of nomination signed by electors residing within the political division for which the nomination is made to the number at least of three hundred if for a state office, at least one hundred and fifty if for an office representing two or more counties, and so on down in a corresponding ratio. In connection with elections a registration law was adopted, and the usual restrictions placed upon qualifications of voters.

In order to fund the bonded and floating debts of the state, an act was passed authorizing the issue of six-percent state bonds, redeemable on December 1, 1911, or at any time after December 1, 1900, at the option of the state. At the time of the adoption of this law the bonded debt of the state to be refunded amounted to $51,715.06, with accrued interest, while the floating debt was about $76,000, with accrued interest. The advalorem state tax to be levied annually for general purposes was fixed at eight and a half mills on the dollar, and a further annual tax of three-fourths of a mill was levied in aid of the state university building fund. The legislature also passed a law changing the school system in conformity with the requirements of the state constitution and provided for an annual tax levy in each county, for the support of schools, of not less than five nor more than ten mills on the dollar. The liquor-license law-enacted at this session fixed the annual license fee at five hundred dollars in all places where the total vote for governor at the preceding election exceeded one hundred and fifty; three hundred dollars in other places; but a tavern where liquor was sold three miles or more from a village should pay only one hundred dollars annually. The selling or giving of liquors to minors was forbidden. The sum of thirty-five thousand dollars was appropriated for restoring the buildings of the insane asylum at Blackfoot, which had been burned. For the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago twenty thousand dollars was appropriated. Aliens were forbidden to acquire or hold any real estate in the state except mining lands unless such real estate be acquired by inheritance or by the enforcement of a lien or judgment for debt. Resolutions were adopted urging an amendment to the federal constitution permitting the election of United States senators by a direct vote of the people. The county of Canyon was created out of a portion of Ada County. A state penitentiary was established at Boise in the buildings already in use by the territory, two miles east of the city. The killing of moose was prohibited for six entire years. Three-fourths of a jury in civil cases were allowed to render a verdict. Eight hours was made a “day’s” work. A county horticultural commissioner was provided for in certain cases. A great seal for the state was adopted. Three thousand dollars was appropriated annually for the education of the deaf, dumb and blind of the state at institutions in adjoining states or territories: and many other important acts were passed.


Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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